Reinventing the Store

Have you heard of Borders’ new concept store, which debuted in Ann Arbor, MI, in February? The main ingredient is a “Digital Center,” where shoppers can customize CDs, download books and music and create photo books. Throughout the store, computer kiosks serve up buying recommendations and video content that feature interviews with experts and authors.

With this move, Borders is clearly trying to meld its brick-and-mortar presence with the perks of the digital age and it’s not a bad idea. Bookstores have been vulnerable for years, starting with the growth of mega-stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders itself, then from the growth of online shopping, which makes it incredibly easy for a book to arrive on your desk within 24 hours of purchasing it.

But despite the ability to obtain books through cyberspace, the bookstore has survived because it is still in many ways a touch-and-feel experience. Who hasn’t flipped through a book pulled from a shelf and eyed the text in the middle and even near the end of a novel to see if this was an experience they wanted to have? I’ve put down books because I’ve thought the prose was cloying or because I didn’t like the paper quality. Had I ordered them online, I wouldn’t have had that option.

Besides, bookstores are still a place for social encounters and there’s nothing better than perusing the stacks with like-minded souls on a rainy afternoon, as long as none of them have decided to camp in a corner to use their cell phones to make plans for that evening or to make their weekly, whining calls home to Mom.

Do Your Own Melding
Retail travel agents can look to Borders for inspiration. If you’re still in a brick-and-mortar setting that clients are able to visit, have you made it an environment that they can enjoy? You don’t have to go to the lengths that Borders has to engage its customers with digital entertainment, but what if you provided a computer in a comfortable space where clients could research potential trips online as they’re waiting to speak to one of your agents? How about a mini-library where they can peruse beautiful photography books that will inspire them to travel to the far ends of the earth?

Along those lines, is your office experience a sociable one for your customers? Is it a place where they can interact with your agents who have been to exotic destinations, who can paint emotional images of what it’s like to be in a Paris market on a sunny Saturday morning or to hike through a rainforest that’s just a mile away from the fabulous hotel you’ve just secured for them? Each visit to your office should leave your clients grinning from discovering the potential pleasure of their next trip.

Taking it a step further, do you engage your clients by referring them to websites they can visit when they’re just at the beginning stages of their trip planning? Why not handpick specific destination sites that they can explore exhaustively and that you know will answer all of the questions they are likely to throw at you? The trick is to make your agency an attractive place to return to!

Make your own moves to embrace new digital opportunities that will lure customers to your front door, but don’t forget that as a real live travel counselor, your most alluring quality is your ability to provide a social networking venue where clients can physically interact with those who can spread the passion about travel.